It is easy to despair over Liam Hendriks after starts like the one he turned in on Monday night against the Yankees, when he coughed up four homers en route to his eighth loss in 15 tries for the Twins this year.
Certainly the right-hander has offered little cause for encouragement here in his first extended exposure to the majors, but we shouldn't let these rocky outings completely sour us on his long-term outlook.
Earlier this month, Aaron Gleeman drew a comparison on his blog between Hendriks and former Twin Brad Radke. When Radke first stepped onto the scene back in 1995, his performance was similar to what we've seen from Hendriks thus far. He gave up tons of hits, tons of homers and looked generally hopeless. Of course, Radke went on to have a pretty decent career.
I was struck by another more recent example of a player who, like Hendriks, put up ridiculous numbers in the minors despite an underwhelming arsenal and got knocked around in his first taste of the majors. That would be Kevin Slowey.
Compare the numbers from Slowey's rookie season in 2007 to the ones Hendriks has produced this year:
Granted, Hendriks' production looks pretty bad even in comparison to Slowey's uninspiring debut. But the two shared the same principal problem – a proneness to having their mediocre offerings deposited in the bleachers. Slowey was even more vulnerable to homers than Hendriks, which is saying something given that the latter's HR rate would translate to 44 long balls allowed in a 200-inning season.
Slowey's initial struggles in the big leagues gave him plenty to work on during the offseason, and he came back to put together a fine season as a 24-year-old in 2008, posting a 3.99 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 123-to-24 K/BB ratio in 160 1/3 innings. He cut his HR/9 rate from 2.2 to 1.2.
Hendriks is 23 years old, the same age as Slowey was in '07. He similarly needs to make adjustments and find a way to make his stuff work against MLB hitters, the way it has against hitters at all levels in the minors.
If he can bounce back next year with numbers anywhere close to the ones Slowey was able to produce in his sophomore season, it would be a huge boon for Minnesota's shaky rotation.
Thursday night, which is an off night for the Twins, can still be full of baseball. At 7PM at the Barnes and Noble in Har Mar Mall, there will be a book signing of Short But Wondrous Summers: Baseball In The North Star State by several of the writers who contributed, including John Bonnes.
The book, all by itself, is a rare opportunity. It is only produced for those cities which host a SABR convention, which happened this past June. As part of that, SABR recruits members to contribute stories, history and research surrounding the region that hosts it. It's not an exaggeration to say that a compilation of Minnesota baseball information like this is something that happens once in a generation. Whatever your baseball library looks like, it will be considerably upgraded with the inclusion of Short But Wondrous Summers. (If you can't make it Thursday night, you can also order the book or just learn more about it here.)
Beyond that, several of the authors of the book will be there to give a short talk about the chapter that they wrote. There will also be a chance to ask questions. Finally, there will be a quick book signing, too.
If you can make it, please make sure to introduce yourself to John. He'd love to talk about Twins Daily, or the Twins, or Gleeman and the Geek, or just about anything else. The good lord willing, maybe you can even grab a beer afterwards. See you there.